Courtesy of Ben Mattison

The Yale School of Management’s Black Business Alliance held the first Black Venture Summit last Friday, allocating $20,000 to founders who identified as Black and used their entrepreneurial endeavors to address pressing issues in Black communities.

The purpose of the summit, which was held in collaboration with CTNext and the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale, was to increase the exposure of Black entrepreneurs, founders and investors so that they could learn and develop in partnership. Yale students and New Haven community members interested in entrepreneurship and venture capital had the opportunity to interact with successful Black entrepreneurs, investors and other professionals at the event. 

“The Black Venture Summit was an opportunity to celebrate founders that have gone on and actually built successful businesses, have raised money and bring in venture capitalists,” said Mea-Lynn Wong SOM ’23. “That way becoming an entrepreneur or becoming an investor becomes a lot more attainable because we’re actually seeing the stories of people within the Black community that have done it before us.” 

Wong and Julian Love SOM ’23 collaborated with CTNext executive director Onyeka Obiocha, to create an event that would stimulate the business ecosystem and empower Black individuals interested in venture capital or entrepreneurship. CTNext is an agency within the Connecticut State Government that focuses on growing entrepreneurship.

Love and Wong found their inspiration for the Black Venture Summit when they arrived on campus and began to share their mutual interest in entrepreneurship and venture capital. At the same time, they realized that there weren’t many Black individuals involved in these fields at the School of Management or in general. 

Conversations with Obiocha from CTNext in the fall of 2022 led to the idea of creating an environment to support Black individuals in venture capital and entrepreneurship. The team then worked together to organize the summit, which featured successful Black founders and venture capitalists who shared their knowledge and expertise.

“Right after that first conversation, we started to work to pull this thing together,” Love said. “We’re just super excited and ecstatic that Yale got some amazing founders, some amazing VCs who lend their time, their expertise and their knowledge and held that program with us last Friday.”

Wong reflected on the importance of holding an event such as this to address the barriers and obstacles that Black individuals face when it comes to embarking on a path in entrepreneurship and business. This event capitalized on the resources and network of the Yale community to support the next generations of business leaders, she said. 

“Something that’s common within the Black community is that we may not have entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in our family or in our networks,” Wong said. “So coming to Yale SOM, and you’re interested in this topic you’re thinking through how can I … access this information or access these people, and you look to your own network and you don’t necessarily see that.” 

While encouraging founders and visionaries to share their ideas, this summit also sought to tackle the shortage of funding and support for businesses formed by underrepresented minorities. Additionally, leaders of the event said they intended to democratize the venture capital process for Black entrepreneurs and investors to interact and share their ideas while utilizing the available resources. 

“There is an opportunity to do more specifically to support Black founders,” Wong said. “So I think of the Black Venture Summit as an event where people can come and learn about existing ventures, potentially pitch their startup and get some funding for it … And it’s an event where you open the dialogue about the lack of funding in the Black community for startups.”

The ultimate objective was to broaden the startup ecosystem and bolster the number of Black-owned businesses, according to Wong. 

Tobi Shitta-Bey SOM ’24 YSPH ’24 was part of the coordinating team for the Black Venture Summit and helped with logistics and planning. Shitta-Bey believed the event was a unique opportunity to increase the representation of Black venture capital and entrepreneurship, which is not as prominent at the SOM or in the industry. 

“[The summit] really brought out that focus to Black venture capital and Black entrepreneurship, which I feel like is definitely not as prominent here right now,”  Shitta-Bey said. “Certainly something that we want to keep building up and really showing like we have that community here and that we want that community to grow.”

In regards to future steps, Shitta-Bey, Love and Wong envision that this event will grow and become a platform to bridge funding gaps and advance representation in the VC space. They also mentioned the importance of creating avenues for conversation and building a pipeline for successful Black entrepreneurs.

“A resounding theme of this summit, especially as we heard from different founders, tech leaders in capital, venture capitalists, like people in the industry was there is a lot of entrepreneurship within the Black community” Shitta-Bey said. “I think it’s really like addressing that funding gap to really [understand] what is currently being done in the larger industry.”

More information about the Yale Black Venture Summit is available on their website.

Abel Geleta covers Yale New Haven Health (YNHH) for the Science and Technology desk at the News. Previously, he covered stories and topics at the intersection of Science and Social Justice. Originally from Ethiopia, Abel has lived in northern Virginia for the past 12 years. He is currently a junior in Berkeley college studying History of Science, Medicine and Public Health as a scholar in the Global Health Studies Program